“He is my ọ̀rẹ́ (friend),” I told Iya Oyo, after Kola left.
Iya Oyo did not look too pleased.
She didn’t ask me for any explanation about Kola, but the way she eyeballed me after he left compelled me to offer some information about Kola.
After I spoke, Iya Oyo asked, “Who is he?”
“My friend, ọ̀rẹ́ mi.”
“I heard you the first time,” Iya Oyo said. “He is your ọ̀rẹ́ (friend). But who is he in addition to being your ọ̀rẹ́?”
“I don’t know,” I responded. “Just a kid I met on the soccer pitch in the schoolyard. He is my friend (ọ̀rẹ́). That was where we became ọ̀rẹ́ (friends).”
“You know his parents?” Baba Oyo asked.
I shook my head. “No.”
“Know where he lives?” Baba Oyo further pressed.
I shook my head again.
“Then how is he your friend?” asked Baba Oyo. “You know nothing about him, obviously.”
“Well, there are two types of ọ̀rẹ́,” Iya Oyo clarified.
Baba Oyo nodded in agreement.
“The key part of ọ̀rẹ́ is rẹ́,” said Iya Oyo. “Rẹ́ is a word with two meanings. Rẹ́ means to ‘befriend’ or ‘relate with.’ Mo bá ẹ rẹ́ means I relate with you, or I befriend you. On the other hand, rẹ́ also means to cut, or severe, as in Fi ọ̀bẹ rẹ́ (cut with a knife). Have you heard the saying Ọ̀rẹ́ rẹ́rùn-rẹ́rùn before? The friend that cuts off your neck?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“In Ọ̀rẹ́ rẹ́rùn-rẹ́rùn, you see how rẹ́ is both to befriend, and also to cut,” Baba Oyo explained.
“What about ọ̀rẹ́ arẹ́nijẹ?” Iya Oyo asked?
“The friend Ọ̀rẹ́ that cheats or tricks you to defraud you?” I asked.
“Perfect,” Iya Oyo confirmed. “It is rẹ́ again. It is a flexible word. When rẹ́ is a friend, it is good. But when rẹ́ means a vicious cut, you must be careful.”
“Ọ̀rẹ́ (friend) can be Ọ̀rẹ́ ojú (deceitful or face value friend),” Baba Oyo elaborated. “Or it can be ọ̀rẹ́ inú (true friend or deep friend.”
“So which type of friend is your ọ̀rẹ́ Kola?” Iya Oyo asked.
“I really don’t know,” I confessed.
“Ọ̀rẹ́ ní í la ni (your friend can save you and make you prosperous),” Baba Oyo commented. “And on the other hand, ọ́rẹ́ ní í pa ni (the person who stabs you as an ọ̀rẹ́ can kill you).
“When you, therefore, call someone ọ̀rẹ́, the person can rẹ́ (cut) you, or rẹ́ (befriend) you,” Iya Oyo concludes. “It is from their actions that you determine whether the ọ̀rẹ́ is a killer or a healer; whether the ọ̀rẹ́ is one who cuts you or the ọ̀rẹ́ who courts you.”
***I remembered Iya Oyo’s lesson on ọ̀rẹ́ when I heard about Deborah, the student stoned to death by her classmates. Her classmates were her ọ̀rẹ́. But some were ọ̀rẹ́ out to kill her, to rẹ́ ẹ sí wẹ́lẹwẹ̀lẹ.
There should be a social organization called Deborah’s Friends (Ọ̀rẹ́e Dèbó) in remembrance of her.
Deborah deserves such an organization in her memory to support victims of violence and religious extremism in Nigeria.
Do you know sayings about friendship (ọ̀rẹ́) that show both faces of friendship?
People say, for instance, Ọ̀rẹ́ òtító kò sí mọ́, ọ̀rẹ́ ọ̀dàlẹ̀ ló kù. Perhaps someone could translate that for those who don’t speak Yoruba?
The picture shows Olufemi Ifaturoti and me together during his visit to my place in Austin. We have been friends Ọ̀rẹ́ for some fifty years!